Lockdown pressure cooker boils away love

SA's Covid-19 lockdown has spawned a new epidemic - of broken marriages.

06 September 2020 - 00:00 By NIVASHNI NAIR
Some couples cracked under the strain of spending too much time together.
Some couples cracked under the strain of spending too much time together.
Image: 123RF/ Andriy Popov

SA's Covid-19 lockdown has spawned a new epidemic - of broken marriages.

A company that offers online divorce and mediation services reports a 20% increase in new divorce cases after the six weeks of level 5 lockdown, and Cape Town divorce lawyer Bertus Preller said his practice had been even busier than during the usual post-holiday "divorce season" in February and March.

"Tension bred by forced proximity is a massive reason," Preller said. "Marriages that were already in trouble before the lockdown have been exposed to a situation where spouses were 24/7 in each other's presence, with no freedom."

He said a protection order had been needed in one case in which a Cape Town man was in lockdown with his wife and in-laws. The couple were now divorcing.

Preller said he had handled "a number of applications for protection orders" as a result of domestic abuse over the past three months.

"Covid-19 has brought with it an array of psychological effects," he said. "Anxiety, depression, fear . are not conducive to a harmonious situation. Financial stress combined with confinement is also pushing some marriages to breaking point."

Preller advised couples to try counselling first, although "there are cases where it is actually better for people to separate, due to toxic personalities and abuse".

"However, I have seen numerous marriages that could have been saved if intervention was sought earlier.

"If Covid-19 was the sole cause of marital break-up it may well be best to seek counselling rather than opting immediately for divorce, because Covid-19 will in time become history," Preller said.

Brendan McNulty, manager of online law firm DIY Legal, said divorce applications had rocketed since lockdown restrictions began to be relaxed. "During level 5 there was an increase in interest, but it wasn't possible to process divorces, so the majority waited until they weren't locked down," he said.

"The major reasons were a combination [of] lack of love and respect . and the parties constantly arguing or fighting," McNulty said.

"A bad marriage became an awful marriage as a result of being cooped up and the additional worries of getting sick, losing your job and worry about family.

"Some people also said that lockdown gave them the opportunity to think about their life in a bit more detail and realise they weren't in a marriage for life."

Durban counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum said that although unresolved conflicts had come to a head for many couples during lockdown, others had deepened their relationships.

"I've seen many couples who were able to enjoy their time together and strengthen their bonds," she said.

"Many couples have had fewer conflicts as most of their arguments would have been about going out with friends or obligations to respective families."

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